Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kedushat Levi: Bridging between Void and Fullness

[The Bar Mitzvah reception reveals the truth of our existence]

In a previous entry we read Rabbi Levi Yitzkhak expound on the being and nothingness of God; how the spiritually developed person understands from this that he himself is part of the great All and, therefore, paradoxically, also nothing. Yet Levi Yitzkhak refuses to dismiss the universe as we experience it as a mere illusion. Physical reality is, as I suggested in an earlier analogy, the walls of the cup which, combined with the necessary void in the middle, that makes a cup a cup. So too, reality is both material existence and nothingness, limits and boundlessness, combined. What ties these paradoxical and antithetical realities together, he now argues (in a very clever manner, indeed), is the divine commandmant (mitzvah). The performance of the commandments simultaneously points toward the higher reality in which we are nothing, while affirming that there should be existence through action; making our experience of a limited existence both livable and desirable. The translation continues:

...And behold, the Ain, it conducts everything supernatural above the natural [order].[1] But it is the Yesh that conducts the natural order.[2] Truly! It is all bound up, that that we are intertwined, positive existence in nothingness[3] by means of the commandments and Torah, as is written: And the [holy] beasts ran back and forth (Ezekiel 1:14).[4] And this is what is written in the Zohar: For the commandments and the Torah, it is both hidden away and revealed, so the hidden away hints at the [divine aspect of] Ain, while the revealed hints at [the divine reality of] Yesh; it is a fusion of positive existence in nothingness, and nothingness in position existence. Therefore [the word] mitzvah [itself] is written [to demonstrate this principle], for [the first two letters of the word mitzvah] mem and tzadi, in atbash code[5] are yud-hay,[6] this signifying the aspect of Ain. And the [last two] letters [of mitzvah], vav-hay, signify positive existence.[7] Therefore the letters yud-hay is hidden away [in the word mitzvah] because Ain is hidden away. And this explains how the secret and revealed are [joined] in a commandment.[8] [Because] of this we labor with the commandment [which often have no obvious personal benefit], for we are acting, guided of the spirit, to the Name, The Blessed One – this is it in concealment, that it is not evident to us; but [even so] when do we do good works for our selves [the commandments often do reward us in this world], this is evident to us.

Zal g'mor - to own the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, go to: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] The aspect of divinity that is no-thing knows no bounds and is not delimited by the laws of an ordered universe. It is the source of the gracious, the miraculous, and the unpredictable.
[2] Positive existence, cosmos, is the aspect of divinity that makes for a bounded, predictable and lawful universe.
[3] “…existence in nothingness” is carefully chosen wording. No-thing is the matrix from which positive existence emerges. Ain has ‘priority’ over Yesh. But positive existence is not an illusion, it is just contingent. Just as it is the void in the middle of the material that makes a cup a cup, so too existence needs nothingness to be realized.
[4] This is from Ezekiel’s vision of the divine chariot (Merkavah). This is a difficult prooftext to unpack for those not already steeped in the assumptions of Jewish esoteric thought. This is the parabolic meaning of the "chariot": in early Jewish mysticism, Merkavah is the metaphor for the godhead, the divine superstructure. For Levi Yitzkhak, the holy beasts which pull the chariot, then, stand for action and/or commandments, and he takes “…running back and forth” to refer to the performance of the commandments as creating a constant interaction between the aspects of nothingness and positive existence, joining the two.
[5] One of the world’s earliest forms of encryption, atbash employs a chiastic substitution of letters for each of the 22 Hebrew letters: one substitutes the last letter for the first letter, the second to last letter for the second letter, etc.
[6] Yud-hay is the first two letters of the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God, giving these first two letters occult meaning.
[7] Unmodified, they are already the last two letters of the Tetragrammaton. They signify ordinary, positive existence because they require no esoteric mechanism to reveal their godly association, their meaning is already established plainly.
[8] This passage is too schematic by half (get it?). Levi Yitzkhak means that by combining the decoded first half of the word with the plain-sense last half of the word, one gets the complete name of God! The word ‘commandment’ itself fuses, and therefore embodies, the dual Ain and Yesh nature of divinity. This is why the commandments can serve as a bridge between the reality of the All and the experience of positive existence. Commandments can have a utiliterian value (a more serene life, social order, the admiration of others) but can also have no apparent reason or benefit (does avoiding eating lobster make us better people, or materially benefit the Jews?) but still serves a concealed yet cosmic function. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words hold the universe together.


Post a Comment

<< Home